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Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: His Complete Writings and Beyond

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Timothy Chase and Phineas Parkhurst Quimby Tower Clock (1836–2013)*

by Ronald A. Hughes

In 1836, the Belfast, Maine city leaders voted to purchase a town clock and install it in the tower of the (Unitarian) First Church. Under the direction of the selectmen, local clockmakers Major Timothy Chase (1793–1875) and Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802–1866) contracted to design and construct it, and on the third day of October of 1836, put the tower clock into operation. The mechanical clock movement and the parts for the interconnecting drive mechanism for driving the four sets of clock hands were manufactured in a machine shop at the Head of the Tide.

Every year since then, there is a line–item expense in the Belfast City budget for a clock tender or clock winder. This person’s responsibility is to wind the tower clock movement as required and oversee the operation of the clock mechanism throughout the year.

Bob Stover currently holds the position of clock tender and this family tradition first began when his uncle, Henry Stover, took charge of the clock on April 18, 1946.

Recently, Bob Stover gave Ned Lightner of Insight Productions a personal tour of First Church and the amazing Quimby & Chase tower clock. See the video below!

(Running time: 28:13.)

Time Change: The Town Clock from Belfast Community on Vimeo.

The photographs used in the slideshow at the top of this page are from my personal collection and were taken during a tour of The First Church in Belfast and the clock tower. One day [July 14, 2010] Bob Stover graciously allowed me to tag along with him for one of his routine inspections of this clock, much to my delight!

I have also met Bob’s uncle Henry Stover on a separate occasion, and Henry regaled me with stories about his many years of caring for the Quimby & Chase tower clock.

* Update

After 177 years of service atop the First Church in Belfast, Maine, the mechanical tower clock movement designed and constructed by Timothy Chase and Phineas Quimby was retired in 2013.The City of Belfast commissioned and maintained ownership of this clock from its inception in 1836. Based on research work by members of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, it was determined that this clock mechanism was the fourth-oldest tower clock movement in the state of Maine, and the oldest one constructed in Maine by native Maine clockmakers.

It would make a good story to say that the Quimby and Chase tower clock operated perfectly for 177 years, but unfortunately, that story would not be true. The clock underwent numerous repairs and alterations over the years, and became unreliable. At the suggestion of Bob Stover, city officials decided to replace the mechanical heart of this clock, with modern electrical works.

Peter and Susan Rioux of Winterport, Maine, employed to modernize this tower clock in 2013, began by taking the old movement out of service. The wooden clock hands that were a part of a previous restoration project, had become warped and needed replacing. Lightweight aluminum clock hands were installed along with four modern electrical clock works in late October, 2013.

Sitting silent in recent years, the hour strike that originally sounded out the passing hours on a Paul Revere and Son bell, is brought back into service with a newly installed electromagnetic bell strike.

Still located in the clock tower, the original Quimby and Chase tower clock movement underwent a cleaning process and is now wrapped in plastic. One possibility under consideration, is to put this device on public display.

A pair of the original clock hands is a part of the magnificent collection at the Belfast Historical Society and Museum, 10 Market Street, Belfast, Maine. Visit their web site here: http://www.belfastmuseum.org

Updated February 20, 2014

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